Speed Reads

Going solo

What if birth rates are too low because women are no longer settling for Mr. Wrong?

Most reasonably wealthy countries have a similar, frustratingly intractable problem — their citizens aren't having enough babies — combined with a general unwillingness to grow the population through immigration from younger countries. None of the solutions for increasing the birth rate, mainly involving incentivizing couples to have more children, have worked, and it might be because policymakers aren't tackling the right question, Martha Gill suggests at Britain's Sunday Observer: Why aren't women having as many children as they say they want?

"Surveys tell us that, on average, women and men in rich countries would ideally like two children — near the coveted 'population replacement rate' of 2.1 — but birthrates are falling far short of this," Gill writes. Why? She runs through and discards several theories: lack of child care, housing, and money; career penalties for taking time to have kids.. But even the one metric that does track with falling birth rates — increased access to birth control and abortion — doesn't explain why "women with all these increased choices are having fewer children than they would like," Gill adds. 

She offers an explanation, just in time for Galletine's Day: "Surveys of childless women tell us that a top reason is not career, lifestyle, or financially related: it's that they just haven't found the right partner."

The lack of ideal husbands isn't a new problem, but our "grandmothers and great-grandmothers who didn't find the right man would probably at some point simply have had to pair up with the wrong man — single life, or 'spinsterhood,' was just too miserable and poverty-stricken," Gill suggests. "Women spending this Valentine's Day alone should consider that in ages past they would probably have been married by now, happily or not." 

Gill's "radical solution," more government support for people who chose to have and raise a child alone, has its own shortcomings. But she's right that the current policies are not moving the needle. Read her case for incentivizing single motherhood at The Observer.